The gates of the white and empty city. Knowing I'm there without opening my eyes; its dust stinging them, whispering around me, its ghosts calling me from the desert.
Why? Always the same; wandering its abandoned streets, calling in tongues I don't understand, no answers, not the least sign of life.
Only shadows at the edge of sight, disappearing down alleyways, fading from doors and windows. Never waiting, never letting me see. Doubting eyes and sanity with every step, not calling after them for fear of driving them even further away.
Why does it call to me? Why do I wake here every night, sore and starving from journeys I can't recall?
Not this time; no matter how the storm rages, no matter how the desert aches at my back...I won't answer, won't wander inside. Let the ghosts and shadows have it; let the dust and sand bury its mysteries. I don't care any more.
That resolution enough to shudder me awake, a ripple passing through the air, the sand and dust at my feet, my bones and brain.
Seeing as fractures run throughout its walls, as the silent towers and minarets and temples crumble, as the message of dissolution spreads.
Staggering to my feet, legs wavering beneath me, pitching me on my knees in the dust. Reaching for it, silently pleading, as though I can stop what I have precipitated.
Howls, the ghosts and shadows screaming behind my eyes as they're buried, as they're thrown up on cascades of dust and debris. Rising winds carrying their laments out into the desert, to whimper in the ears of whatever blind and scavenging things still live there; the foresighted ones that escaped the apocalypse that originally reduced its makers to nightmare and rumour.
Why me? What could I have done?
Not this, not this...they howl, screaming in my thoughts.
Choking on dust, eyes streaming as it scratches them bloody, raking my own face open with ragged nails.
Rain coming as the walls shudder and fall, scarlet storm clouds massing, what they shed hideously warm, Mother's milk, the same stuff that paints my mask of dust.
My gospel of dissolution slowing as the rain turns desert to swamp, makes dust and sand into clotted mire, as the things worming and burrowing beneath rise to its percussion:
A garden of worms, coiling up around me, amongst the ruins; white and scarlet stained, pale and purple, veined and bulbous-headed. Some peeling open like fleshy flowers, revealing the elaboration of their interiors, others twining and knotting in mating and cannibal abandon.
Scurrying, many-legged things; beetles, spiders, white and black and hideous grey, warring amongst the ruins, seeking out new hollows in which to make their nests and larders.
Seeing them, stung and bitten by them, their venom simultaneously cold and burning in my veins.
Not scraping them away, even though the sight of them on my legs and arms makes me want to vomit; letting them batten and bite and coil and burrow, not caring if they fill me with such venom, I melt off the bone, turn to soup inside.
Sight bursting from its sockets in hallucinogenic trespass, carried on the winds, out across the ruins I have made, amongst the ghosts that still wander there, weeping tears of ash at the state they anchored themselves to; whose destruction has left them without even a hope of renewed shape or meaning.
Is that what you wanted from me? Some new story, a myth by which to remake yourselves?
Hearing, raising their swollen shapeless heads, their billowing, broken faces, weeping as one:
Laughing, a cruel and misbegotten child, a capricious god, no means of saving them; no inclination to do so. Not their prophet or saviour; never promising or pretending to be otherwise.
Returning, as the rain washes their dust away, to my own skull, my own wretched shell, rising from where I kneel, bloodied, weak and starving, as always, from my dreaming and forgotten journey across the wastes.
Tearing my eyes away, as the storm growls and thunders, as the ghosts scream, reaching for me through the deepening dusk, their ashen fingers finding no purchase.
Never yours. Not ever.
Staggering back the way I came, along forgotten paths to unwanted waking, where others wait to abandon me just as casually, where there's no one to even witness my despair or pretend that my mask of dust has the least meaning.
George Lea is an entity that seems to simultaneously exist and not exist at various points and states in time and reality, mostly where there are vast quantities of cake to be had. He has a lot of books. And a cat named Rufus. What she makes of all this is anyone's guess.